Recent rut reports have provided great food for thought on whitetail behavior and, consequently, hunting tactics that will work right now. Three important observations jumped out at me:
1. Reporters Eric Bruce (South) and Brandon Ray (South Central) both showed photos of great bucks taken in the immediate aftermath of rain storms. While I believe deer movement during a rain is highly variable and dependent on several factors (severity of the storm, phase of the rut, relative temperature), one consistent behavior I’ve witnessed is strong deer activity in the hours following precipitation, particularly when the rain event has been significant. This post-rain (or post-snow) uptick in activity will continue to play out in the weeks to come. Though we all have differing tolerances for hunting during the rain, this much is certain; when the precip stops, head for the timber!
2. Will Brantley (Mid-South) and Mike Bleech (Northeast) noted the presence of fresh, active scrapes; Bleech even captured a trail cam pic of a fine buck visiting one. These observations are very significant for two reasons: First, scrape activity will do nothing but build in intensity in the coming weeks, and hunters everywhere should be actively scouting to find and monitor them. As we approach the seeking phase of the rut, the most active scrapes are some of the best places to set up on a buck before peak breeding. Second, scrapes are some of the best places to hang a trail camera and begin assessing the best bucks in your hunting areas. One of the coolest techniques I’ve learned recently is to find a scrape, then create a mock scrape nearby. I hang my camera overlooking the mock scrape, which is usually freshened almost immediately by neighborhood bucks. I believe they view the mock as a challenge and few bucks–but especially older animals–can resist responding.
3. Finally, Mike Bleech brought up an interesting observation about reading deer sign when he pointed to a trusted source who feels that mature bucks in his region typically leave tracks that are rounded at the tip. I’ve not noticed this phenomenon in my region of the Midwest, but I certainly believe that it could be true. But the message here is clear; study deer sign for details, and try to make accurate, non-biased conclusions about what your experience reveals. Even if those details don’t result immediately in venison or antlers, they can offer a better understanding of whitetail behavior in your region…and that most certainly will result in more consistent success.